Jimmy’s Denver Gazette Column | Caddyshack jokes are now Wheat Ridge regulations

Written by on February 12, 2021

The song erupted clear across the golf course. A golfer recoiled in anger. “The man’s a menace!” he shouted. “Cut that off!” His frustration, mixed with a sneering attitude, was palpable. “Music is a violation of my personal privacy. He’s breaking the law!”

Sadly, decades-old jokes from a cult classic (of course, I’m talking about Caddyshack) are becoming regulations in Wheat Ridge – where music can actually break the law.

Last August, the city council unanimously passed an onerous new noise ordinance that will likely cripple some businesses – especially T-Bird Roadhouse, an outdoor bar popular with bikers.

I’ve gotten to know T-Bird’s a bit as a harmonica player. Most weekends, they like to sponsor live music. Last year, I performed a gig with the Lo Becker Band and sat in twice with The Lap Dawgs, a band I’ve since joined.

According to lead Dawgs guitarist, Joel, the band started playing T-Bird’s under its original ownership five years ago. Before that, for about 20 years, they performed regularly at the Motorcycle Shop next door. Live music has been happening near 44th and Kipling for 25 years! Now, Wheat Ridge may effectively shut it down. Since becoming effective in September, the new ordinance came at a precarious time for small businesses — especially bars and restaurants — hanging by a thread due to the pandemic.

The new law forbids commercial businesses from holding “amplified sound events” on their premises if the sound is “audible” within a private residence not owned by the responsible party. Commercial sound levels must not surpass 65 decibels between 7 a.m.-10 p.m. and 60DB between 10 p.m.-7 a.m.

The only exception is when a business obtains a permit allowing 75DB “when measured from the nearest receiving property.” Only six permits may be given per location per year. The city manager may impose additional conditions at whim and revoke permits. Additionally, a permittee must notify “all residences and businesses within a 300-foot radius of the exterior property line of the event location” with fliers.

T-Bird Roadhouse, along with Clancy’s Irish Pub, is unique in Wheat Ridge for offering live music outdoors. On weekends, it’s essential to their business. The bar’s owners, Aaron and Amanda McCallister, say “our sales triple” on show days because customers stick around longer to enjoy the music.

The McCallisters acquired T-Bird’s last January and finally reopened in June. It’s been quite a year. As warmer weather springs upon us, things are about to get hot thanks to the city.

To be fair, noise ordinances can be beneficial. They’re used to protect one property owner from being impaired by another. T-Bird’s borders near some homes and regularly gets noise complaints from a few residents.

Five residents backed the ordinance in public comment. They all seem to be referring to T-Bird’s while talking about “quality of life” being hampered and insisting a permit system is needed because it’s just too darn loud.

Yet Aaron tells me that each time police showed up, they’d go check noise levels together. Without fail, levels never crossed 75DB max and usually charted close to 50DB – quieter than traffic. Music never went past 7:30 p.m. All of that complied with the law.

It seems to me the McCallisters did everything right to keep entertaining customers, grow their business and be respectful to the community. They’ve been strategizing and collecting petition signatures with resounding support from most neighboring residents and businesses. They also met a couple weeks ago with their council members for District IV, who Aaron says came across as genuinely apologetic and eager to find a solution.

Sure, most cities have noise ordinances. However, in reviewing several others – including in Denver, Aurora, Centennial and Arvada – they all appear less stringent and usually don’t require permits. Arvada mandates but doesn’t cap permits, and no fliers are needed.

What’s striking is the public record on this ordinance. City council minutes show only the five favorable resident comments submitted Aug. 21-23. Fast-tracked, it was introduced Aug. 10 and received final passage Aug. 24. Unlike its detractors, T-Bird’s had no idea until after it passed…because a police officer handed them a letter. No small business should ever have to learn that their city is crippling them because a cop showed up.

Consider a January WalletHub report finding Colorado ranks second-to-last among the 50 states and D.C. when it comes to unemployment. Bars and restaurants have driven the decline. This is an especially bad time to strike a death blow to another small business with 10-plus employees, revenue to the city and happy, music-loving patrons.

We’ve suffered lockdowns and social distancing for almost a year. Most people haven’t had the chance to enjoy live music. Some may seek outdoor venues where they’re less likely to catch COVID. Such ordinances deprive people of the chance to get out and live a little.

It looks like the Wheat Ridge City Council may right its wrong. I hope so. Then, let this be a lesson to other cities on responsive government.

Click here to read the rest of Jimmy’s February 13 column at Denver Gazette, a sister publication of The Washington Examiner.

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